Saturday, June 26, 2010

British PM rushes to defend BP

New British Prime Minister David Cameron is apparently worried about the possible "destruction" of BP. In Toronto to attend the G20 Summit, he will press President Obama to back off a bit:

I think it is also in all our long-term interests that there is some clarity, some finality, to all of this, so that we don't at the same time see the destruction of a company that is important for all our interests...

This is a vital company for all of our interests. The view I take is that BP itself wants to cap the well and clean up the spill and compensate those who have had damages.

It wants to do these things, it will do these things. I want to work with everyone concerned to try to make sure that out of all this there will still be a strong and stable BP, because it is an important company for all of us.

That's true. BP is an extremely important company in the U.K., not just to the government but to a broad range of shareholders, many of whom have BP as a core component of their retirement savings plans. And Cameron is right, to an extent, to come to the company's defence. What if, say, a major American company like GE were involved with, or had caused, a major environmental disaster overseas? Would the American government not seek to protect it, and its shareholders, from collapse? Of course. Cameron knows who his constituents are, and they don't live on the Gulf Coast. He has every interesting in seeing BP remain strong.

But while it's hardly the fault of those British shareholders that BP did what it did, the unassailable fact is that the company caused, mostly if not entirely, the worst environmental disaster in American history, one that threatens not just the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast but the entire way of life of so many in the region. I don't necessarily want to see BP destroyed, but it nonetheless must be held to account for what it did, and forced to pay for what it did. That may mean a dip in its share price, but so be it. Responsibility comes at a price.

Obama can sympathize all he wants, but there's no way he should back down.

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